Master Gardeners - Putnam Sentinel

The Putnam County Master Gardener Volunteers present Gardeners of Putnam County. This is the first in a series of articles that will appear in the Sentinel every other week, starting today and running into October. Each article will share the experience of a different Putnam County gardener, focusing on a particular garden project or feature that brings the gardener joy.

Perhaps no flower is more symbolic of hope than the daffodil. On Road K6 (aka Williamstown Road) just south of Ottawa, the landscape surrounding the home of Master Gardener Volunteer Dan VonderEmbse and his wife Jan is bursting in April with vivid yellow, white and orange daffodils that evoke feelings of happiness and hope after a long winter of gray skies and barren branches. Daffodils are the official flower of many cancer-fighting organizations. “The theme of hope they represent,” Dan says, “has had special importance to our family during the past fifteen years since our daughter was diagnosed with and overcame a brain tumor.” Each spring their daffodils remind them colorfully of the power of hope and renewal. To a traveler on K6 they are a spring tonic for the spirit.

Dan’s inspiration for planting daffodils came from neighbors Harry and Agnes Kleman. Daffodils dotted the Klemans’ woods and surrounded their garage when the VonderEmbses moved to the neighborhood in 1985. Over time Dan has developed an extensive garden with mounded beds bordering the property, forming islands in the front yard and continuing behind the house. The beds are neatly layered with weed-suppressing hardwood mulch, which Dan adds to every spring. In addition to large numbers of daffodils and tulips, the beds are planted with many species and combinations of trees, shrubs and flowering plants that create eye-catching variations of color, shape, texture and pattern. “One of the best things about daffodils and tulips,” Dan says, “is the simplicity, the natural resistance to disease, the lack of weeds and no need for watering.” The raised beds burst into color in early spring when the daffodils bloom, followed closely by tulips and other bulbs. Dan keeps the display growing by planting more bulbs every autumn, most of them from bargain bins at local nurseries and stores. Mother Nature helps. The daffodils and tulips naturalize—that is, they spread by bulb subdivisions and seeds, scattering themselves among other plants and ground covers. Dan calls these welcome wanderers “color pops.” Since all spring bulbs require a period of cold temperatures and deeper planting before reawakening in the spring, Dan plants them as late as December and January before the ground freezes.

The number of this year’s daffodil and tulip blooms is below Dan’s expectations, stressful weather conditions having taken a toll. Nevertheless, the VonderEmbses expect to feast their eyes on an accumulation of approximately 4,000 to 5,000 daffodils and 1,500 or so tulips of many varieties and colors—yellows, oranges and white, single and double, early and late blooming. An ongoing challenge for Dan is designing his plantings for smooth transition, to ensure constant color and interest in the landscape. If all goes as he intends, this year’s daffodils, tulips and other spring flowers will die down quietly among the flowers and foliage of summer as they appear, and so on into autumn. Dan doesn’t cut off the daffodil and tulip leaves after the flowers fade because they are needed to feed the bulbs for next year’s bloom.

Dan’s uncle, John Nartker, a noted artist and art professor, taught that art and gardening have unique power to bring joy to our lives. Dan and Jan hope their garden displays have that effect on passersby this spring and throughout the year.

[Master Gardeners are Ohio State University Extension-trained volunteers working with county Extension personnel to provide educational services to their communities. For more about the Master Gardener program, contact the Putnam County Extension Office (419-523-6294) or go online to Watch for an announcement in the Sentinel about Master Gardener training classes to be held this fall.]